When buying a smoke detector, it’s important that you make an informed purchase that will support the safety of you and your loved ones in your home. Keep an eye out for these features to help determine the best smoke detector for your needs.
Smoke detectors are available in three main varieties: ionization smoke detectors, photoelectric smoke detectors, and dual-sensor smoke detectors.
Ionization smoke detectors detect flares and flaming fires that develop quickly. The particles produced by these fires are smaller than the ones detected by photoelectric smoke detectors, which detect the larger particles associated with slower-burning, smoky fires. Dual-sensors smoke detectors combien both technologies in order to detect both types of fires.
Since all fires are dangerous, regardless of type (flare vs. smolder), dual-sensor smoke detectors are your best option for alerting you in the instance of a fire and keeping you safe.
Smoke detectors rely on one of two power sources: your home wiring, or batteries.
Hardwired smoke detectors are wired into your wall or ceiling, and typically interconnect with other smoke detectors in your home (when one sounds, the others will sound, too). Because they’re part of an interconnected system and require professional installation, they’re usually more expensive. Hardwired smoke alarms include a battery backup, so the device keeps working even if the power goes out.
Battery-only smoke detectors are easier to install and cheaper, since you can DIY the installation. The batteries will either be widely available, like AA, or lithium. AA batteries need to be replaced on a regular basis, usually annually or semi-annually, while lithium batteries are sealed within the device and designed to last for the 10-year lifespan of the detector. Battery-only smoke detectors can also be interconnected; they’ll just use a wireless connection to speak with the other units, instead of your electrical wiring.
Battery-powered smoke detectors will let you know when the battery is low by issuing a chirping sound or verbal message, indicating it on a visual display, or sending you a smartphone notification.
Smoke detectors include a hush button you can push in the event of a false alarm. You simply press the button to silence the alarm. If the danger remains present (whether it’s smoke or simply dust interfering with the sensor), the alarm will go off again after a short period.
Carbon Monoxide Detection
You can buy standalone smoke detectors, or combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, which detect both smoke and carbon monoxide. Combination alarms are typically more expensive, due to their expanded functionality.
Smart Smoke Detectors
Some smoke detectors are smart home-enabled. Typically, these are combination carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.
Smart smoke detectors will connect to your home wifi to provide notifications through your smartphone app about the status of the detector (including its battery life), and alert you to fires even when you’re not home (allowing you to stay safely outside and call the fire department).
These may also connect with other smart devices in your home to assist with alerting you, such as flashing lights in addition to sound, and may be voice-activated.
Always buy a smoke detector that has a Underwriters Laboratories Standard (UL) label. This indicates the smoke alarm meets global safety standards.
Smoke detectors with voice alerts will alert you verbally to the danger, in addition to sounding the alarm. The smoke detector may even tell you which room in the house the smoke is coming from.
Smoke alarms typically have at least one LED light indicating the status of the alarm or its battery (red is bad, green is good).
However, in addition to sounding the alarm, some smoke detectors will also light up as an alarm feature, to aid the hearing-impaired and those who may sleep through an alarm. Alternately, some alarms activate a nightlight intended to provide illumination if the alarm goes off during the night.
Would you like to know more about how smoke detectors work, and the best way to use them? You’ll find answers to questions like these below.
What is the purpose of smoke detectors?
According to the CDC, there are over 350,000 home structure fires each year. That equates to a home structure fire every 90 seconds.
Each year, thousands of deaths, and even more injuries, are caused by home fires. Sadly, many of these may have been preventable. Over a third of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms.
This is why both the CDC and the National Fire Protection Association strongly recommend outfitting your home with a well-maintained smoke detector system. Most states require smoke alarms in residential structures, although the specific guidelines may vary by state. You can find the laws for your state using this interactive map.
Besides the safety of you and your loved ones, there are additional benefits to having a smoke detector. The sooner you’re alerted to a fire in your home, the sooner you’ll be able to call the fire department and minimize your property damage. Some insurance companies also offer homeowners a discount for having smoke detectors installed in their home.
How do smoke detectors work?
The way smoke detectors work depends on their sensor technology: ionization or photoelectric.
Ionization smoke detectors are designed to detect the smaller particles indicative of fast, flaming fires. Inside the smoke alarm, there are two electrically charged plates, creating an ionized current in the air between them. There is a small amount of radioactive material in that space. When smoke enters the alarm, it causes a reaction that triggers the alarm.
Photoelectric smoke detectors are designed to detect slower-burning, smoldering fires, which have larger particles. These devices are photoelectric because they use light to detect the smoke. Inside the alarm, a light is aimed closeby, but not exactly targeting a sensor, which is also located in the alarm. When smoke enters the alarm, it refracts the light, so some of it ends up hitting the sensor, sounding the alarm.
Dual sensor smoke alarms combine both of these technologies into a single smoke detector.
Is ionization or photoelectric smoke detector better?
Neither ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors are not inherently better than each other; they just detect different types of fires.
Ionization smoke detectors are more sensitive to fast fires, so they may be more likely to signal a false alarm, especially if they’re in areas of your home that naturally produce high temperatures quickly (like a bathroom or kitchen). Photoelectric smoke alarms may be better-suited for those areas.
Because each device is better at detecting a certain type of fire more quickly, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends having both types of alarms in your home, or using dual-sensor alarms.
Where should I place my smoke detector?
Because smoke rises, smoke detectors should be placed on a ceiling or high up on a wall. You should place a smoke detector on each floor of your home, including attics and basements. You should also have an alarm placed in every bedroom and in every hallway outside a sleeping area.
Ideally, the smoke detector outside each bedroom should be a dual-sensor smoke detector. Otherwise, you’ll need to place both a ionization detector and photoelectric detector outside each bedroom.
To avoid false alarms, the smoke alarm should be placed on a ceiling away from dust or clutter. Place ionization smoke detectors at least 10 feet away from any household appliances which may trigger the alarm, such as a stove or clothes dryer.
How long will my smoke detector last?
Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. Test your smoke alarm on a monthly basis to ensure it’s in good working condition and the battery is still functioning properly. Also vacuum the alarm monthly to prevent dust from building up and triggering the alarm.
All smoke alarms will come with safety instructions. Review these for additional maintenance advice.
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